In two decades, your future meals will be flavored with trendy contradictions.
Stories John Lehndorff
As Sunday morning, January 1, 2040, dawns, Coloradans will wake up to a breakfast of lab-cultured sausage, mung bean–based eggs, and tiger-nut-flour banana bread—all prepared by robots who talk like Alexa’s much smarter granddaughter. There is no kale in sight, and almond milk was banned long ago for being an environmental threat.
The first month of the year is still filled with new diets, new calendars, new dire warnings, and the traditional predictions from culinary prognosticators.
I’ve been the guy predicting the next big food thing in newspapers and magazines since the early 1980s. See how official I just sounded?
Admittedly, I’m a food data geek who soaks up stats from the market research firm NPD Group, Whole Foods, food industry insight source Technomic, Forbes, the National Restaurant Association, and similar sources. Tell me what you’ll eat, and I’ll tell you who you’ll be.
Looking forward 20 years in nutrition, there are dining, grocery shopping, and farming trends that I think will be going strong.
Shop till You Stop and Use AI
The retail store demise that has sunk Macy’s and other merchandisers will eventually close many of the neighborhood markets we now frequent. They will focus on pickup and delivery with limited hours for old-timers who like to wander the aisles. “Locally grown” will mean greens, herbs, and other fresh foods grown in vertical and hydroponic mini-farms at the store.
Meanwhile, grocery checkout lines will be an anachronism (along with debit cards) as technologies including face recognition deliver automatic payments. Look for more cluster locales that combine a hybrid of fast-casual eatery, grocery store, and upscale convenience store with gas pumps and electric vehicle charging. Morality becomes the third pillar of food choice along with taste and nutrition. Apps (such as the current GreenChoice) will serve as a Trivago for shopping with a conscience and guarantee the food we buy meets our values concerning food safety, nutrition, and environmental impact.
AI-powered robots will be an intimate part of dining, shopping, and farming. China’s PuduTech is already selling a robotic food delivery cat. In Spain, an electronic tongue has been tested for beer tasting. Whole Foods Market is working on a robotic barista.
When Waste Finally Makes Tastes
Many nascent movements in 2020 will be accepted practice by necessity in 2040 because of ongoing environmental degradation and population pressure. Efforts to assure food security to everyone, practice sustainable and regenerative agriculture, grow urban gardens, rescue edible food, create compost, and eliminate food waste come together to change the way we will approach cooking and dining.
Reusable containers will be the norm, and foam takeout food containers will be antiques along with plastic shopping bags. Eateries will only use 100 percent recyclable and compostable packaging as well as edible plates and cups made from rice, seaweed, and potatoes. Kids will get edible flavored pasta (bucatini) drinking straws.
Who Will Grow the Steak for Your Philly?
Plant-based burgers are all the rage now, with plant-based chicken, pork, scallops. Eggplant-based eel for sushi is coming soon. By 2040, plant-based will be part of a roster of crafted and lab-grown foods, including cell-grown proteins and farm-free foods made by “ferming,”which is brewing unicellular microbes to create various flavors and textures.
Let’s Eat Like It’s 1799
As the 2040s begin, chefs and farmers will have looked past monoculture crops to old plant varieties that have survived and adjusted to changing environmental conditions. In Colorado, this includes the growing of ancient grains (many gluten free) and diverse dry beans—including Anasazi beans—to be used in plant-based foods. The state’s vibrant heirloom apple (and cider) movement will continue finding and propagating lost apple varieties through organizations such as the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project, Apple Core Project of Western Colorado, and the Boulder Apple Tree Project.
Most Americans will still identify as meat eaters in 2040 even as they become increasingly flexitarian. To minimize the impact, the whole chicken, pig, cow, and lamb we still kill for meat must be utilized. The pendulum will swing back to nose-to-tail cookery, meaning home and restaurant dishes will feature pig’s feet, tripe, lamb necks, bone marrow, oxtail, cheek meat, liver, and bones. If you’re one of those people willing to try new cuts and species of meat used in global cuisines, the beef industry has a name for you: Protein Progressive. And it doesn’t assume your political affiliation.
Shall We Dine Together or Virtually?
I’m hoping diners in 20 years embrace communal dining, Sunday dinner, and home cooking and baking…but I’m doubtful. Technology will increase our tendency to live in isolated silos and not interact. Diners already want to eat their restaurant meals anywhere but the actual eatery, using drive-thru, delivery, and takeout. Look for device-free meals, feasts eaten in darkness, and tantric dinners in the nude to create socialization without resorting to virtual reality. And yes, Virginia, there will be eateries open in 2040 where you can consume cannabis publicly and eat a nice dinner even in Kansas.
Our ability to find a dish or eatery everyone can agree on will only get worse in 20 years. You can’t host a dinner party with friends when everyone is on personalized gluten-free, paleo, keto, and Whole30 diets. According to Accenture, more than half of US millennials are on a specific diet driven by ethics and environmental and health concerns. Add in Baby Boomers trying to boost their longevity, and you end up with something like the 3-D printed “sushi” being researched by Open Foods company. It adapts to each diner after careful analysis of their saliva, urine, and stool samples.
They Ate Cauliflower-Crust Pizza?
By 2040, kale will have long since wilted into obscurity—replaced by tastier bok choy varieties and Chinese broccoli. Once ubiquitous cauliflower will fade from the menu from sheer boredom (although cauliflower gnocchi will still be popular). Our citrus fruit tent will expand beyond those sugary Cuties and mandarins to embrace the nuanced tastes of yuzu, calamansi, and the aptly named Ugli fruit. Blood oranges will be marketed as “raspberry oranges,” but still taste like grape Kool-Aid. In the virtual deli, cheddar and feta will be so 2030, replaced by artisanal Mexican cheeses including añejo (Parmesan-like), queso fresco (feta-esque), and queso de Oaxaca (string cheese).
Pass the Urfa Biber
I’m looking forward to that New Year’s Day breakfast in 2040. The United States will have a far more diverse population than it has now. My trend research supports the view that diversity and immigration only lead to more and tastier foods on our dinner tables. Have you tried ajvar (Balkan red pepper sauce), urfa biber (tasty Turkish dried chile), and amba (spicy mango pickle) yet?
Hop to It
Twenty-five percent of Americans are willing to try foods made with cricket powder, according to Michigan State University. Nearly 40 percent are under 40 years old. Only 15 percent are 40 and older. Locally grazed cricket flour for keto muffins and such is available from Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch.